Media Research Center founder and president L. Brent Bozell III and Fox News host Sean Hannity promoted the baseless rumor that an unnamed Associated Press photojournalist in Iraq received a tip about an impending attack that he later photographed, but failed to notify the U.S. military of the threat.
The claim reflects accusations by conservative blogs such as Power Line that the AP has a "relationship with terrorists." Power Line -- like other blogs -- originally based this accusation on the observation that the "photographer was obviously within a few yards of the scene," that the terrorists were "evidently unconcerned about being photographed in the commission of a murder," and other factors purportedly evident in the photograph itself. Power Line then argued that the claim was further validated by an anonymous AP source's recognition that the photographer was "tipped off" about an event in the area and AP spokesman Jack Stokes's statement that "[i]nsurgents want their stories told as much as other people and some are willing to let Iraqi photographers take their pictures." But the rumor is based wholly on speculation; the only actual evidence in the case is the AP's assertion that the photographer likely received a tip about a "demonstration" but "definitely would not have had foreknowledge" that the violent event would occur.
The photograph, which depicts militants executing Iraqi election workers, was one of 20 photos that won a 2005 Pulitzer Prize for Breaking News Photography. The rumor that the photographer knew of an imminent attack but failed to notify the U.S. military or act in any other way to stop it -- which first surfaced on the conservative blog Belmont Club in December 2004 and has since spread throughout the blogosphere -- was also advanced by right-wing pundit and author Michelle Malkin, who described the story as an "outrage" that has provoked "troubling questions."
On the April 5 edition of Fox News' Hannity & Colmes, Bozell ominously stated:
If there is truth to the reports that this AP photographer was alerted that something was going to happen and to be there at the appointed time, that raises serious questions. ... When the insurgents say that they have got some activity planned, [fellow guest] Bill [Press], they're not planning on selling Girl Scout cookies. You know what it is they're planning.
Bozell also suggested that the photographer had been alerted to "an act of war being planned."
While maintaining that he was only "speaking philosophically" about the issue, Hannity lent credence to the story by asserting that bloggers "have often led the way and have been way ahead of the curve on some controversial stories," and then asked: "[I]f they [journalists] see crimes that are about to be committed, atrocities ... do they not have a moral human obligation first, as opposed to a journalistic obligation?"
But the evidence concerning events leading up to the taking of the photograph is minimal. Indeed, there is only the photo and the AP's version of events. The AP said that the photographer was likely "tipped off to a demonstration that was supposed to take place," but maintained that he or she "definitely would not have had foreknowledge" that the violent event would occur, according to a December 22, 2004, Salon.com article. As Editor & Publisher reported on April 6, "there is no evidence that the photographer knew anything about the attack in advance or, indeed, that the killers knew a photographer was poised and ready to snap that image."